GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — One of the greatest civil rights leaders of our time got his start in leadership in the Piedmont Triad at North Carolina A&T State University.
“The sit-ins that began here in Greensboro, in a student sense, unleashed a dynamic that had been contained for much too long,” Rev. Jesse Jackson said.
Jackson came to North Carolina A&T the same year four A&T students sparked a national movement when they sat down at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Greensboro. He was the quarterback for the football team. Off the field, he was an activist deeply involved in the civil rights movement.
“It happened at a time A&T was the center of student activism around the nation,” he said.
He and his wife, Jacqueline, met here. They got married and started their family here. They’ve fought together for civil rights and racial equality ever since. The university honored her with an honorary doctorate degree on Mother’s Day. During our time together, she reflected on the day she met renowned author James Baldwin on campus.
“I made up some question about how do you feel about the progress of African Americans at that time,” she said. “I was so enamored when he said that the first thing we should understand is we should not be so excited about our achievement because we have worked hard for something we were owed and whatever we had earned in our activism, we had been owed it anyway. So we shouldn’t be so excited, but to recognize that we are a part of the human race and the human family. And I never forgot that.”
Rev. Jackson says there’s a political explosion happening, pointing to Black mayors of Charlotte, Houston, Dallas, and Montgomery, Alabama. But he says it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
“Today we’re looking at a backlash to our progress,” he said. “We had the most ever in voting. The politics of our time is now an attempt to take it all back, fighting and resisting…fighting for justice and jobs for everybody.”
Mrs. Jackson says our country’s reckoning with race was predictable.
“We keep putting problems to bed and at some time you’re going to have to spray your mattress or open it up or get a new mattress. And I do feel in our society today we’ve kind of reached that vertex, that apex and we’re trying to decide whether America and democracy is going to live,” she said.
Rev. Jackson says we must keep fighting the racism that divides us.
“We fight that sickness everywhere and we’ve come to institutionalize it as if it’s natural. it’s immoral and it’s wrong and it’s hurtful,” he said.
Still, they see progress all around.
“Isn’t it always a light at the end of the tunnel?” she asked him during our conversation.
“Well make sure the light at the end of the tunnel is not a train coming this way but the sunshine,” he responded.
He’s hopeful that things will continue to get better, especially for Black people.
“I’m overwhelmed with hope because we have the right to vote and the will to fight back. We got more with less. Today we have skills, more skills. There’s nothing we cannot do.”
And he believes America’s future is bright.
“Our future must be built upon hope, not despair…looking forward, not looking backward,” he said.